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A Response to Richard Dawkins’ Open Letter


Pictured here: An excerpt from Richard Dawkins’ angry response to an American radio station that canceled a talk with him because of protests from the local Islamic community over Dawkins’ continuing abusive speech about Muslims. In his open letter, Dawkins claims loudly that he differentiates between Islamism (meaning fundamentalism) and Islam, and challenges the radio station to provide examples of any anti-Muslim speech from him. The immediate problem being that the very same paragraph contains multiple examples of Dawkins failing to differentiate between Islamism and Islam, when he speaks contemptuously of Islamic “scholars” (the quotation marks are his) and decries the “mysogyny and homophobia of Islam.” Then he demands, “Why does Islam a get free pass?”

Sir, you can’t have it both ways in the same paragraph. As one academic to another, I can tell you that this is exactly why Islamic communities, many of whom have come under literal attack here in the U.S., are saying that you engage in hate speech against Islam. These are examples of why people think you are engaging in bigoted rhetoric and not just critique of fundamentalist movements as you claim.

I admire Dawkins’ work on popular science very much (his “Greatest Show on Earth” book on evolution is an eloquent, intellectual, and well-argued book, and one of my favorite works of popular science), but when he begins ranting about religion – especially Islam – his rhetoric gets very sloppy and he resorts to the kind of sweeping generalizations that he eschews in his other work.

And in America right now, doing that hurts the lives of American citizens.

That’s why an American radio show is cancelling your talk, Mr. Dawkins. It isn’t because they want to give “Islam” a “free pass”; it’s because the kind of rhetoric I underlined right here in your letter gets mosques burned in Texas and gets hijabi women attacked on subways in Oregon and gets Americans killed.

And as an academic, you know better; this is an intellectual laziness that carries a cost in lives and that we simply can’t afford.

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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